Road Runner Sports races toward retail

San Diego-based running equipment and apparel cataloger Road Runner Sports is revving up its retail expansion plans. By year’s end, the 23-year-old company will have six new stores, says retail general manager Bob Bell, bringing its store total to 10.

What’s more, Bell says 2007 will bring another 15 store openings. And while plans for further expansion beyond next year haven’t been finalized, the company expects to open stores beyond the West Coast. All but one of Road Runner Sports’ current retail locations are in California; the exception is in Seattle. Most of the new stores will be 5,000-10,000 sq. ft.

Why the sudden push into retail? “We’re certainly looking to round out markets,” says Bell. “We’ll be looking nationally. Our plan is to continue our growth targeting markets that support our concept.” Road Runner Sports opened its first store, in San Diego, in 1999.

“For years we’ve had a retail store in San Diego that’s always been successful,” Bell says. “Our expansion is really a way of taking that concept to those customers who choose retail as their primary venue for our offerings. Having retail, catalog, and Internet is a multichannel approach that will be a benefit for our customers.”

Bell says the company researched expansion based on the performance of its stores in San Diego and Seattle. “Through that research we developed a new store design, and we will execute the new store design with our expansion,” he says. “It opens up a new market for us.”

In modifying the store design, Bell says, “we’ve merchandised the stores differently and segmented it to women’s and men’s, including our own private-label brand.” Throughout the new stores, Bell says, the color palette and emphasis on proprietary graphics, including photography of male and female runners in action, “defines our concept.”

All Road Runner Sports stores have a running analysis station, “which covers weight distribution and foot pronation,” Bell says. They even have ovens to make custom soles. “We spend a great deal of time and effort on training and what a person’s proper needs are,” Bell says. “And people can test a pair of running shoes on the road before they decide whether to purchase them.”

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